In a series of Disasters at Sea, Smithsonian had included how El Faro caught into the storm.
It’s September 29, 2015, and the container ship El Faro is caught in a category 3 storm. Suddenly, the ship’s main engine sputters and stops, leaving the ship at the mercy of the waves.
Here is the story of a container vessel SS El Faro which was lost at sea in 2015.
SS El Faro was a United States-flagged, combination roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off cargo ship crewed by U.S. merchant mariners. Built-in 1975 by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. as Puerto Rico, the vessel was renamed Northern Lights in 1991, and finally, El Faro in 2006. She was lost at sea with all hands on October 1, 2015, after steaming into the center of HurricaneJoaquin.
On September 29, 2015, at 8:10 p.m., El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida for San Juan, Puerto Rico, carrying a cargo of 391 shipping containers, about 294 trailers and cars, and a crew of 33 people—28 Americans and 5 Poles. The ship’s master, Captain Michael Davidson, charted a course that, according to TOTE Maritime, took the vessel a reasonably safe distance away from the hurricane. At the time of departure, Hurricane Joaquin was still a tropical storm, but meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center forecast that it would likely become a hurricane by the morning of October 1, on a southwest trajectory toward the Bahamas.
The vessel’s charted course took it within 175 nmi (320 km; 200 mi) of the storm, where seas in excess of 10 ft (3 m) were likely. TOTE could have vetoed the captain’s sail plan into the area of a predicted hurricane, but chose not to and opted for the ship to continue. The company said there was no incentive for Davidson to maintain the ship’s schedule, but that the schedule also appeared to be a safe one. At least one of the deck officers, second mate Danielle Randolph, voiced concern prior to sailing and wrote in an email to friends and family, “there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it.”
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The vessel had “passed its annual Coast Guard inspection in March and another survey in June”, and had also successfully completed the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) class and statutory surveys in February 2015. The NTSB found that safety drills were conducted on a weekly basis and that the ship met stability criteria when she left Jacksonville.
Former crew members of El Faro expressed surprise and shock that the vessel set sail with a major storm in its course. They said the vessel was “a rust bucket” that “[was not] supposed to be on the water.” They also said that El Faro suffered from drainage issues and that leaking was common in the galley (kitchen) compartment. They said that the ship was covered in rust and her decks filled with holes as recently as August.